Moving On Their Own: Automation and AI

By Henry Silva, AI developer

Ever since the industrial revolution, automation has been a key element in most new technologies. Nearly every branch of science wants to create autonomous and efficient inventions that make things easier for all of us. But with the rise of artificial intelligence, automation has gained a new aspect. We now have the ability to create smart robots that can do a number of higher-level tasks. We’ve moved well beyond the classic images of hulking robots on assembly lines more typical in factories during the 20th century.

One of the most prevalent applications of AI-assisted machinery already changing society are autonomous vehicles. These can range from small robots that automate entire warehouses to self-driving cars and trucks that efficiently and safely traverse the country. For many scientists, these new autonomous vehicles aren’t simply a better method of transportation — they create entirely new ways of transporting individuals and objects.

Companies like Tesla, Uber, and Embark are already providing groundbreaking innovations for autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars can drive efficiently and safely across crowded streets and highways. And as the number of these vehicles increases, the AI that controls them only gets better. The more developed this technology becomes, the more widespread it becomes. It’s only a matter of time until the whole transportation industry relies on autonomous machines for the majority of its business.

Automated machines are also being used to manage warehouses more effectively than humans, by relying on powerful AI to make the best managing decisions. Instacart — one of the biggest grocery delivery companies in the U.S. — is already starting to use robots to automate its warehouses, and other companies like XPO Logistics are almost entirely dependent on robot-driven labor to operate their facilities.

This trend extends to more complex activities, too, like mining. Mining companies like Rio Tinto are already transitioning to fully-autonomous robot fleets that are less risky and more efficient than humans. These robot fleets have an intercommunication system, meaning that they are constantly exchanging information at a fast pace in order to prevent accidents and other problems. Specialists working for these companies predict that, in the next five years, most of the mining industry will have automated smart vehicles.

So what does this mean for human workers? Black and Latino communities make up a significant percentage of lower-level jobs in the U.S. — jobs more likely to be replaced by automation. If automation continues its pace of largely unregulated advancement, we will see significant American job loss, particularly in those communities.

Society needs to hold accountable the companies responsible for this rampant increase in automation. We need to demand that these companies provide skill-training programs for both those expected to lose their jobs and those interested in new jobs augmented by AI. If we follow this course of action, AI can lead to a profusion of new and better jobs for all workers, especially those in underrepresented communities in the U.S.

Automation is inevitable, but unemployment isn’t. It is vital for us to be informed about how machines have already and will continue to shape our future.

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